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LEGAL COSTS: Ask your solicitor ten questions about costs before your legal expenses run up thousands in unnecessary work & bills – or result in your lawyer taking your home & savings to pay for it

Questions to ask your solicitor – walk if you don’t like the replies. IN SCOTLAND, there are few, if any non lawyer controlled sources of advice to legal services consumers on how to manage client relationships with solicitors, how to control legal costs, and what to do when something goes wrong and your lawyer rips you off.

Client protection – is a myth. Given three decades of evidence that thousands of clients have been ripped off every year by their once trusted solicitors, the only people who believe a complaints system run by lawyers, managed by lawyers and protected by lawyers –  are fantasists, and the Law Society of Scotland.

There are no background record checks available on Scottish solicitors, and the only ‘help’ on offer to clients when their relationship with their solicitor breaks down – is provided by the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), a regulator backed by the Law Society of Scotland, staffed by members of the Law Society of Scotland. You get the picture.

However, in England & Wales, the landscape is a little more consumer friendly, with the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) and Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) providing a more independent form of advice and help to consumers.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority also publish complaints and regulatory data on solicitors and law firms – a must have service for anyone considering using a solicitor which does not currently exist in Scotland.

As things currently stand in Scotland – if you are unable to check up on your solicitor’s regulatory history via an independent source, the best advice is to walk away – or what happens next is your own fault.

Self regulation by lawyers, pleas to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament for help will not put right your legal problems or what your solicitor did to you.

A handy guide published by the Legal Ombudsman, reprinted by DOI in this article, gives a list of ten questions consumers and clients of solicitors should ask their legal representatives before taking on representation and expensive legal services.

There are further tips in the full LeO leaflet, so please download it and read thoroughly before engaging legal representation.

This guide was written for the English legal services market, and you may be an English reader, so go right ahead and ask you solicitor these ten basic questions on costs.

However, the same questions apply as much in Scotland as anywhere else –  and anyone using a Scottish solicitor should consider asking these same questions.

If you don’t like the answers you receive, or don’t get any answers at all – then the best consumer advice possible is to protect yourself and walk away.

At the very least, you will have saved yourself hundreds, or thousands or tens of thousands of pounds for something involving a lawyer which may well have ended up going wrong anyway.

Why put yourselves through a five year heartache losing your savings to a lawyer, when ten little questions and answers may save you a whole lot of trouble.

The introduction to the leaflet from the Legal Ombudsman states: “If you use a lawyer, he or she should talk to you about the cost of their services. But you should also understand their charges. We have come up with ten questions to ask your lawyer about the cost of your service. We’ve also included some top tips and explained the terms used to help you get the most from conversations with lawyers about costs.

As a consumer, you have the right to expect your lawyer to be clear about how much they are likely to charge you, and for the final bill to be clearly explained and in the range you expected.

Legal services can be complex and the final cost can depend on things such as the type of service, individual details of the case, and how events develop. The expertise and experience of the lawyer may affect things too. However, most services are straightforward and your lawyer should give you a clear idea of what you will be charged from the start. Even if things do get complicated, your lawyer should warn you when this happens, so there shouldn’t be any surprises in your final bill.

A lawyer who values good service will happily answer your cost-related questions. Lawyers also have a duty to provide you with a client care letter when you appoint them. This letter should clearly explain the costs for the service and any terms and conditions that may affect the final price.”

Question 1  Will I be charged for a consultation?

Finding the lawyer who is right for you and the service you need is important. A consultation by phone, face-to-face, letter or online can help you make your decision. A lawyer can charge you for a consultation but they should tell you before you book and explain any conditions. For example, they may offer the first 30 minutes free but charge for time above that.

A lawyer should speak to you about costs and provide the best possible information so you can make an informed choice.

If you have a consultation, make the most of the opportunity. Do your research to find the right lawyer – you can check online, talk to friends and family, or speak to consumer organisations to help you make your choice.

Question 2  “How do you cost your service?”

This question can help you shop around to get best value for money. Two lawyers may provide very different estimates for the same service. Understanding why the quotes differ can help you make the right decision. For example, one lawyer may be more experienced or an expert in the area of law your case involves. If you have a complex case, you might think it’s better to pay more as it may improve the outcome and cost you less in the long run. With a fairly simple case you might decide you don’t need that level of expertise, so it may be better value to go with the cheaper estimate.

Experience and skill are just two reasons why costs may differ. There are now more ways than ever to provide a legal service which can have an impact on what you pay. For example, you can now buy services that are phone or web based rather than face-to-face. Providers who offer this type of service may save on rent and backroom costs and might therefore offer a cheaper price to customers. Understanding if this type of service works for you will help you decide if it is, or isn’t, value for money.

Estimates may vary for a whole host of reasons. Ask questions until you understand enough about the services on offer so you can pick one that suits you.

Question 3 “Can you tell me more about the way you charge?”

Lawyers have different ways of charging and their charging method may also vary according to the service. For example, they may offer a fixed fee for writing a will, but an hourly rate for a probate service (the administration of a will when someone has died). Find out what charging method the lawyer will use and ask them to explain it to you in detail. Questions 4 and 5 help with understanding fixed fee and hourly rate charges.

Conditional fee arrangements (CFAs) are also known as ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements. If you lose, you won’t, in general, have to pay your lawyer’s fees, but may need to pay some out of pocket expenses such as barrister’s fees or court fees. You may also be liable to pay some of the other side’s costs but it is possible to get insurance to protect against this. If you win, you will have to pay your lawyer’s fees and in addition there is usually a success fee which is intended to cover the risk that the firm are entering into with this type of agreement. You should in most cases, however, be able to recover your fees (including any success fee) from the other side. If you are thinking about entering into one of these arrangements, make sure you ask detailed questions so that you fully understand the terms and conditions.

Contingency fee agreements are also a type of ‘no win no fee’ agreement. If your lawyer agrees to represent you under a contingency fee agreement — which should not be confused with a conditional fee arrangement – they will be able to claim a percentage of any money they win on your behalf plus expenses. If you lose the case, you won’t be charged a fee, but you might still have to pay other costs (which could include the other side’s legal costs too).

The contingency fee percentage must be agreed in advance. You should also check whether the lawyer will deduct any expenses before they take their contingency fee or after as this can make a significant difference to the amount you finally receive. If the percentage you are asked to pay is very high, you could end up with very little – even if you win.

Question 4 “What is a fixed fee and what does it cover?  Will I be charged for any other costs?

The term ‘fixed fee’ can be used in different ways. It can be easy to assume that it covers all costs for the service you need. In some cases that may be true, but it may also just refer to the lawyer’s fees. For example, a ‘fixed fee’ in a property case may, or may not, include charges related to searches. Sometimes a lawyer may offer a ‘fixed fee’ for a stage of the case, so don’t feel embarrassed about asking your lawyer exactly what they mean by ‘fixed fee’. It’s not a silly question; the term isn’t self-explanatory.

Lawyers will sometimes give you an estimate of the costs. This isn’t the same as a ‘fixed fee’, so check what your lawyer means. This can be important as sometimes a lawyer may charge a fixed fee for a particular stage but give an estimate for the next stage. If that happens, or you aren’t sure, check what your lawyer means and ask for an estimate for the total cost of the case.

Question 5  “You charge an hourly rate but I’d like an estimate for the cost of the whole service. What will my final bill look like?”

If your lawyer charges an hourly rate, they must give you an estimate of how much the overall service will be. This should compare reasonably with your final bill. If you aren’t sure, then ask your lawyer to give you an estimate for the whole service. Sometimes it can be hard to predict how much it will all cost. Ask so you know how certain the estimate is. Having a range of costs might be more helpful than a single number, which could shift up or down. The important thing is to understand how much the total bill could be.

You are entitled to ask the lawyer to set a limit on the costs. This means your lawyer has to check that you are happy to continue if the spend approaches the agreed threshold. Setting a limit can help you make sure you don’t spend more than you can afford.

Ask questions to understand exactly when the clock starts. For example, if you call your lawyer for an update on your case will you be charged for the call? Ask if, and how, your lawyer rounds up their charges. Many lawyers charge in six minute blocks – check if that’s how your lawyer works. Make sure you feel comfortable with the way they charge.

As with ‘fixed fees’, ask if there are any other costs that won’t be covered in the hourly rate.

Question 6 “Could my costs change? How will you let me know if they do?”

There may be circumstances where costs do change. This is most likely if new information or developments make a case more difficult. For example, in a divorce case much is dependent on the other person’s cooperation to resolve it quickly. Even if both people intend to behave amicably, sometimes that resolve breaks down. If your costs look like they are changing, ask your lawyer about it. In general, your lawyer should tell you as soon as they are aware of any changes, but you don’t have to wait to ask for an explanation. Another option is to ask, when you choose your lawyer, if their original estimate is likely to be breached. If you have agreed a spending limit (see question 5), then your lawyer should stop work until you confirm that you want to continue.

If a case gets complicated even a ‘fixed fee’ arrangement can change. Your lawyer should explain when this might happen and also set out the terms and conditions in your client care letter. Make sure you understand and ask if there is a ‘get out’ clause to say if additional costs can be charged.

Remember, you always have options, even in the middle of a legal transaction. If there is a big hike in the costs of using a lawyer, then your lawyer should tell you about them and let you know what your options are. You could use a different specialist who might cost less but take longer, or only use email to contact your lawyer. There might also be some stages in the process that can be missed out. Ask your lawyer how you can work with them to reduce costs.

Question 7 Are there any extra costs?

This really is a catch-all question to help you budget for your service. You are basically asking your lawyer if they have given you all the information they reasonably can to make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises in the future. Examples of the sort of information this question might raise are additional costs for things like expert reports (such as from a doctor), or photocopying. Some firms use premium rate phone numbers, which could add unexpected costs to the final amount you spend for your service. Use these examples as a prompt to discuss this issue. Your lawyer should also tell you if you are likely to incur any bank charges. For example, you might need to make a CHAPs payment (same day electronic transfer) which can cost over £20 in a property transaction.

Finally, don’t forget to check if your estimate is inclusive of VAT. Your lawyer should tell you, but check so that you don’t get a higher bill than you’re expecting.

Question 8 “Can I get help with the cost of my legal service?”

A lawyer should always talk to you about how the service will be paid for and discuss options such as insurance or membership of a union that might help cover the costs. There can be some fine-print with different insurance options that you need to understand, so ask lots of questions to make sure you know what you are signing up to. Some insurances, like ‘after the event’ or ‘before the event’ insurance, could cover you for some things but not for others. Ask your lawyer for more information.

If you receive benefits or are on a low income you might qualify for help that may reduce or cover all of your costs. There are different programmes for different types of help but the best known is legal aid, which provides free legal advice from lawyers who are registered with the service. Even if your lawyer isn’t registered to provide legal aid they should tell you about it so you have the option of going to a lawyer who can.

Question 9 “When will I be billed and how long will I have to pay? Do you offer payment options?”

A lawyer should give you clear information on their billing process and offer reasonable time for you to make payments. They should also let you know if there are penalty charges if you don’t pay on time. You may be asked to pay some money at the start either to cover certain expenses or as an advance payment of fees. Lawyers aren’t obliged to offer you payment options, but some may be willing to negotiate. Asking the question might help you find a lawyer whose service fits your personal circumstances.

Question 10 “What happens if I disagree with the amount I’ve been charged?”

Your lawyer should tell you their approach to resolving billing disagreements. Every lawyer should have a complaints handling system in place, so find out how their system works. You should not be charged by a lawyer for looking at your complaint – it is very poor service if they do. When you appoint a lawyer they are also obliged to let you know about the Legal Ombudsman who can help you to resolve your complaint if you and your lawyer can’t reach an agreement.

Note – if you disagree with legal bills in Scotland, cases have revealed solicitors often employ threats and legal action for demands to be met within seven days. In some cases solicitors have applied to sequestrate their clients for disagreements on legal bills, and willing, compliant local sheriff courts staffed by familiar clerks and members of the judiciary often grant such orders with little regard for the facts or any representations from clients who question the integrity of legal fees.

SCOTLAND – Consumer protection against rogue solicitors and law firms does not exist.

How bad is the Law Society of Scotland when it comes to protecting consumers? The answer is  very bad. The Law Society of Scotland is a lobby group for the legal profession which puts lawyers interests first, before clients, the public, or anyone else. Do not expect client protection from a system where lawyers regulate themselves.

Read previous articles on the Law Society of Scotland here: Law Society of Scotland – A history of control of the legal profession, and no client protection.

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – The pro-lawyer tribunal which determines ‘punishments’ for solicitors after complaints have endured an eternity at the Law Society & SLCC, can be found here: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – Pro-lawyer protection against client complaints

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

 

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NAME & SHAME: Scots consumers denied records checks on lawyers – as Solicitors Regulation Authority propose detailed public register of lawyers in England & Wales

UK Solicitors regulator plans to publish more data on lawyers. A PROPOSAL to publish more detailed information about law firms and solicitors in a public register has been launched by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – the body charged with investigating solicitors in England & Wales.

The move to advance consumer protection south of the border by the English legal regulator could help consumers make more informed choices on the use of legal services, and result in a more competitive legal sector with higher standards of service and client care.

However, this is in stark contrast to Scotland, where DOI recently reported on the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) who refuse to publish any useable information to Scots consumers which could help clients steer clear from corrupt lawyers and law firms.

The report, available here: FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: SLCC refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings revealed SLCC determination decisions are heavily redacted and only published after being approved by the Law Society of Scotland, leaving Scots consumers at a considerable disadvantage to consumers in England & Wales.

However, and with the advantage of not being held back in the middle ages by the Law Society of Scotland, the England based Solicitors Regulation Authority has launched a discussion paper, “Regulatory data and consumer choice in legal services” exploring what information the SRA could publish through a public register.

The proposed public register already allows consumers to check up on lawyers via the SRA’s Check your solicitor’s record service reported earlier here:  INSPECT YOUR ROGUE: Check your solicitors’ record in England.

The SRA suggests that consumers could benefit from information such as a solicitor’s qualifications or practice restrictions, and complaints data and insurance claims. The SRA also considers what information law firms might want to publish voluntarily, such as quality marks and service prices.

The proposals echo recent calls by the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA), in its interim report on its market study, as well as from the Legal Services Consumers Panel (LSCP), to improve the level of information available for consumers. The SRA agrees that a lack of clear, targeted information means it is difficult for consumers to compare providers and make informed choices. This is dampening competition in the sector.

Better information could help tackle the problem that the legal needs of individuals and small businesses are not being met.

Only one in ten people use a solicitor when they have a legal problem. And legal problems are estimated to cause small businesses almost £10 billion of losses a year, yet 83 percent of the population see legal services as unaffordable.

Greater transparency would also bring legal services more in line with other sectors, such as financial services and energy, where regulators are already making sure consumer-focused information, such as complaints data, is available.

The SRA recognises that there needs to be careful consideration of the implications of publishing more information. Risks to consider include increased burdens on firms and a one-size-fits-all approach working well for some and not others. For example, the needs of corporate clients will be different to those of an individual consumer.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: “Most people and small businesses are still not accessing legal services. When they do, they are not shopping around. It is unsurprising when the information out there is so limited.

“We want to help consumers, so they are not left making blind choices. Information such as enforcement action, complaints and claims data are exactly the type of things I would want to know when choosing a solicitor.

“We know that the public look to the regulators to provide credible, authoritative, objective information.

“If we get this right, we could help create a more competitive market, where consumers can make better choices and forward-thinking firms thrive. It will also help small businesses access the legal services that could help them succeed and grow.

“Yet we need to think carefully about what we publish and how. More information will not benefit consumers if they find it confusing, hard to access, or it is unhelpful. We have also made good progress on getting rid of unnecessary burdens on firms. We will not ask firms to do more in this area, unless there is a clear benefit.

“This is just the start of a discussion, so we are keen to hear what everyone thinks.”

The SRA has already taken steps to improve the information available to consumers by publishing its law firm search in April. And it already publishes details of enforcement action. Publishing useful data in one place would not only help consumers directly, but indirectly as data re-publishers could use it to develop comparison tools that could help make the market more competitive.

The SRA plans to consult on proposals in this area next year. Its discussion paper can be found at: www.sra.org.uk/choice. Closing date for submissions to the consultation is 26 January 2017 submissions.

SRA law firm search can be found here: www.sra.org.uk/consumers/using-solicitor/law-firm-search/about-search.page

The CMA’s interim report looking at ways to improve competition in legal services by increasing information for consumers is available at: www.gov.uk/government/news/cma-seeks-views-on-ways-to-help-legal-services-customers.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel’s research, “Opening up data in legal services (PDF 36 pages, 625K)

SCOTLAND: Legal Services Consumers held back by Law Society of Scotland & self regulation.

Away from the fantastical claims of the Law Society of Scotland, the oh-so-easy free pr and spin of how the Law Society protects access to justice while offering client protection, the fact is, consumers of legal services in Scotland have no chance whatsoever of selecting a legal representative based on their regulatory history – because the Law Society of Scotland refuse to publish any detailed regulation histories of their members.

Just how bad is the Law Society of Scotland when it comes to protecting consumers? The answer is very bad. Read previous articles on the Law Society of Scotland here: Law Society of Scotland – A history of control of the legal profession, and no client protection.

A BBC Scotland investigation “Lawyers Behaving Badly” exposed further weaknesses in the Law Society of Scotland’s system of control freakery self regulation. The BBC programme lifted the lid once more on lawyers investigating their own, how dishonesty plays out at the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, and legal aid fraud.

A recent DOI investigation into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission revealed most of the SLCC’s key staff and investigators are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – The pro-lawyer tribunal which determines ‘punishments’ for solicitors after complaints have endured an eternity at the Law Society & SLCC, can be found here: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – Pro-lawyer protection against client complaints

 

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DISHONESTY RULES: Rogue solicitors guilty of fraud, embezzlement and theft from wills receive soft censures from pro-lawyer Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal and courts

Consumers are not protected by lawyers regulating lawyers. SCOTLAND’S legal profession and anyone connected to it – including the judiciary –  often praise the system of self regulation where lawyers look after their own – to the point of taking over and closing any public debate on creating independent regulation of solicitors.

And, of course lawyers will continue to regulate themselves in Scotland – because self regulation is too protected by vested legal interests, because it allows a solicitor to rip off their client, to be judged by his colleagues and to walk away from it, no matter what was done to the client.

Time and again, lawyers look after their own, investigate themselves, appear in front of their friends at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), and, at most, receive a censure, or slap on the wrist from the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).

Diary of Injustice recently reported on how the SLCC refuses to identify corrupt lawyers within determination decisions which are only published after being approved by the Law Society of Scotland, featured here: FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: SLCC refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings.

The SLCC print lists of doctored histories of complaints against lawyers, and then refuse to identify the solicitors who ripped off their clients – how corrupt is that!

Compare this to England & Wales, where decisions made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in relation to identified law firms and names of solicitors can easily be found here Recent Decisions – Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Striking’s off rarely occur, only as a last resort for the members of Scotland’s legal profession must protect their own.

The slick SSDT website invites you, the public – to have confidence in the ways lawyers look after their own.

Yet in decision after decision, the extent of dishonesty during proceedings renders much of what is published in Tribunal ‘interlocutors’ as clever forgeries of the acts of wilful, determined and well practiced thieves – far more determined than will ever be told in public.

The noticeable lack of action by the SSDT to report solicitors to the Police & Crown Office for prosecution, does, as the years go by, verify the position that the SSDT seeks to protect solicitors from the full weight of criminal law – which applies to everyone else.

However, on that rare occasion where solicitors do appear in court, you just know they are not going to jail.

In a prime example of the above, earlier this week Scotland was meant to weep like a child after the Law Society sought to publicise the fact Paul O’Donnell – a solicitor from the law firm of Thorley Stephenson, in South Bridge – had sold his house to repay more than £21,000 he pled guilty to embezzling from the Edinburgh law firm Thorley Stephenson, in South Bridge .

O’Donnell, 35, had previously been warned he was facing jail for the embezzlement but the judge – Sheriff Frank Crowe – allowed him to remain free as he had repaid the £21,485 he had obtained dishonestly.

In court –  O’Donnell’s defence lawyer –  Murray Robertson told Sheriff Crowe that his client had sold his house, moved in with relatives, and the money had been repaid to Thorley Stephenson.

Sheriff Crowe was also told O’Donnell had been sequestrated, was declared bankrupt and is no longer practising as a solicitor.

In response, Sheriff Crowe told O’Donnell that cases of this nature usually involved a sentence of imprisonment but, as  O’Donnell had co-operated and admitted his guilt, arranged the sale of his house and returned the money to Thorley Stephenson, Sheriff Crowe avoided sending O’Donnell to jail and instead confined him to his current address from 9pm to 6am for six months.

You may be forgiven for thinking how amazing a lawyer who stole, avoided jail.

However, in the rare occurrences when solicitors do come before our courts, jail is always a last resort for the judge – who are themselves, lawyers.

So, with facts in hand that our courts take a shine to lawyers with tears in their eyes, it should be of little surprise the latest rulings by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal offer mere censures and fines for executry and will fraud, theft and embezzlement – which are crimes to ordinary people in the real world.

Law Society-v-Euan Maxwell Terras

This case involved a solicitor in his writing and executing a Will in which his family were the Primary Beneficiaries. An amazing story, yet only punishment is a fine.

Read the ‘published’ details of the hearing here Council of the Law Society of Scotland v Euan Maxwell Terras

Edinburgh 29 August 2016.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Euan Maxwell Terras, Sprang Terras, 64 Kyle Street, Ayr; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his acting in the purchase of a property with the ancillary execution of a Minute of Agreement and the drafting of a Will where his son was the residuary beneficiary and found that in doing so (1) he acted in an actual conflict of interest situation in the purchase of the property and the execution of the Minute of Agreement where he had a personal and/or financial interest in both; (2) he did not insist that Miss MM consult other solicitors either in the purchase of the property or the execution of the Minute of Agreement when both were actual conflicts of interests; (3) he could not discharge his professional obligations to solely look after the interests of Miss MM both in the purchase of the property and the execution of the Minute of Agreement given the actual conflict of interest in both between him and Miss MM; (4) he called into question his personal integrity/independence in taking instructions and/or drafting the second Will which benefitted members of his family and in terms of which they would derive significant benefit; and (5) his advice, given the terms of the draft second Will, was not free from external influence and placed him in a conflict of interest; Censure the Respondent; Fine the Respondent the sum of £8,000 to be forfeit to Her Majesty; Find the Respondent liable in the expenses of the Complainers and of the Tribunal.

Law Society-v-Philip Simon Hogg

Philip Hogg was one of a two-partner Kirkintilloch firm – Alder Hogg. His co-partner was his twin sister Alison Hazel Margaret Greer. The case relates to massive overcharging of clients. – usually defined as fraud if not involving a solicitor.

The following is for one client: The Interlocutor final amount is that for £129K of legal work they charged £219K for £90K more than they should have. So, for this one client, in relation to Mr A’s executry, it is accepted that £90K was overcharged, however the Tribunal does not explain why a staggering £129K of executry fees was deemed acceptable.

Read the full ‘published’ version of events in this shocking case here: Council of the Law Society of Scotland v Philip Simon Hogg

Edinburgh 25 August 2016.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint dated 22 April 2016 as substituted by the Complaint dated 25 August 2016 at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Philip Simon Hogg, residing at 9 Crossdykes, Kirkintilloch, as amended; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his failure in his obligation to see that the firm in which he was a partner complied with the accounts rules, his failure in his duty to supervise the firm’s office manager and cashier, his failure in his duty to take steps to satisfy himself that fees being charged to executries were properly so charged, his failure to see that at all times the sums at credit of the client account exceeded the sums due to the clients and his continuing to draw from the firm while it was being financed by the overcharges to clients; Suspend the Respondent from practice for a period of five years and Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that the suspension shall take effect on the date on which these findings are intimated to the Respondent;

Law Society-v-Jane Elizabeth Steer

Elizabeth Steer worked for a Falkirk firm RMS Law. She previously worked for Russell & Aitken and now works for Allan McDougall & Co.

Ms Steer was accused of falsifying an Affidavit.

Affidavits MUST adhere to the following: 1. both parties must be physically present at the signing i.e. the solicitor (notary public) and their client 2.it must be signed at the locus specified in the Affidavit

The affidavit complied with neither of these tests, instead Ms Steer sent it to her client in England to sign and return.

Problems with the affidavit only came to light when the client gave evidence stating that she had not been in Scotland for a while – but when at Avizandum the Sheriff realised that the Affidavit was signed in Scotland at a time when the client swore she was in England.

To make matter worse, Miss Steer also tried to mislead the Law Society during the Investigation. Read the full published Interlocutor here: Council of the Law Society of Scotland v Jane Elizabeth Steer

Edinburgh 16 August 2016.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint dated 31 May 2016 at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Jane Elizabeth Steer, Messrs Allan McDougall, 3 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh as amended; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of her failure to act with trust and personal integrity in connection with the preparation of an affidavit which she purported to notarise on 29 October 2012, submission to the court for lodging an affidavit which contained false or misleading information on 5 November 2012 and subsequent failure on 29 June 2014 to provide a full and candid explanation to the Law Society in connection with the preparation of the affidavit and its sending to the Secondary Complainer; Censure the Respondent;

And remember, readers – wherever there is dishonesty, there is a Scottish solicitor, and the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal.

THE DISHONESTY FACTOR:

An investigation by BBC Panorama –  Lawyers Behaving Badly – featured the case of John O’Donnell, and went on to reveal the startling differences in how dishonesty in the Scottish legal profession is treated lightly compared to England & Wales – where dishonesty is automatically a striking off offence.

Alistair Cockburn, Chair, Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. Featured in the investigation was the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) Chairman’s attitude towards solicitors accused of dishonesty in their representation of clients legal affairs. During the programme, it became clear that dishonesty among lawyers in Scotland is treated less severely, compared to how English regulators treat dishonesty.

Sam Poling asks: The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal hears all serious conduct cases against solicitors. Last year they struck off nine of them. But is this robust enough?

Alistair Cockburn Chairman, Scottish solicitors discipline tribunal replies: It is robust in the sense that it doesn’t just give convictions on the basis that somebody’s brought before us charged by the Law Society.  We are mindful, particularly when reminded of the lay members, of a duty to the public.

One is always concerned when there is deception but you can have a situation where solicitors simply lose their place. They make false representations in order to improve their client’s position, not necessarily their own. And you would take that into account in deciding what the penalty was but there’s no suggestion that such conduct wasn’t deemed to be professional as conduct. 

Sam Poling: So there are levels of dishonesty which sit comfortably with you, satisfactorily with you?

Alistair Cockburn: No it’s not a question of saying sitting comfortably with me.  I’ve told you…

Sam Poling: OK that you would accept?

Alistair Cockburn: No I’d be concerned on any occasion that a solicitor was guilty of any form of dishonesty.  One has to assess the extent to which anyone suffered in consequence of that dishonesty.  You have to take into consideration the likelihood of re-offending and then take a decision.  But you make it sound as if it’s commonplace.  It isn’t.  Normally dishonesty will result in striking-off.

English QC’s agree ‘dishonesty’ is a striking off offence. The SSDT Chairman’s comments on dishonesty compared starkly with the comments of the English QC’s – who said dishonesty was undoubtedly a striking off offence.

Andrew Hopper QC: “I cant get my head round borrowing in this context. Somebody explain to me how you can borrow something without anyone knowing about it. That’s just taking.”

Andrew Boon Professor of Law, City University, London: “They actually say in the judgement they would have struck him off but the client hadn’t complained.”

Andrew Hopper QC “We’re dealing with a case of dishonesty and that affects the reputation of the profession. I would have expected this to result in striking off.”

Andrew Boon, Professor of Law: “The critical thing is the risk factor. If somebody has been dishonest once the likelihood is that they are going to be dishonest again unless they’re stopped.”

As Sam Poling went on to report: “but he [O’Donnell] wasn’t stopped. The tribunal simply restricted his license so that he had to work under the supervision of another solicitor.”

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal can be found here: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – Pro-lawyer protection against client complaints

 

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INSPECT YOUR ROGUE: Check your solicitors’ record in England, but not in Scotland – UK Solicitors Regulation Authority ‘years ahead’ of pro-lawyer Scots legal watchdogs

Check the regulatory history of your lawyer, not for Scotland. FAR REMOVED from the haven of corrupt and dodgy law firms which shape the landscape of Scotland’s greedy, overbearing legal services market, clients of lawyers in England & Wales have the opportunity to check any solicitor’s record – before shelling out tens of thousands of pounds to a hard working lawyer – or a lazy crook.

The Check your solicitor’s record service – operated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) allows anyone to find out if a solicitor or law firm operating in England & Wales has regulatory decisions made against them in relation to complaints of ripping off clients or providing poor legal services to UK consumers.

However, no such service is on offer in Scotland, due to lobbying from the powerful, shady clique of the Law Society of Scotland and other Scots legal vested interests – who are determined to maintain anonymity of corrupt and incompetent legal practitioners north of the border.

And, instead of providing consumers with a verifiable means of checking up on Scottish solicitors and law firms, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) publish only a selection of heavily edited and censored descriptions of cases which pass through the anti-consumer revolving doors of the Law Society-controlled pro-lawyer regulator.

Diary of Injustice recently reported on how the Scottish legal complaints regulator avoids identifying corrupt and dodgy lawyers within determination decisions – which are only published after being approved by members of the Law Society of Scotland : FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: SLCC refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings.

Admittedly, the service on offer from the SRA in England & Wales does have some drawbacks – for example, not all regulatory decisions are published, and there are time limits to their publication scheme.

However, the facility is a huge advantage over what prospective and existing clients of Scottish solicitors face in efforts to find an honest lawyer north of the border – which some have likened to entering into a game of Russian Roulette with a six barrelled shotgun.

Recent regulation decisions made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in relation to law firms and solicitors operating in England and Wales can be found here Recent Decisions – Solicitors Regulation Authority

A helpful guide on how to use the SRA’s solicitor regulation search service lists the following tips:

You can use our solicitor record check search function to have a look at regulatory decisions that we have made against regulated individuals and firms.

You can search decisions by the name of the solicitor, firm, or other regulated individual, SRA ID number (also known as their roll number) date the decision was made, or type of decision.

You can also view a list of recently-published decisions.

To search for decisions about an individual or firm, enter their name and/or ID number in the search fields. To narrow your search, choose an outcome type and/or specify a date range.

To see all closures (also known as “interventions“) during May 2009, for example, leave name and ID fields blank, choose outcome type “closure” and specify the date range 1 May 2009 to 30 May 2009.

Only the most recent published decision against any firm will be displayed. To view a list of all published decisions against an individual made within the past three years (decisions are removed after three years), you will have to go into the record.

To check whether a law firm is regulated by us, use our Law firm search. To check whether an individual is regulated by us, use the Law Society’s Find a solicitor search.

We aim to ensure decisions we publish are accurate and up to date. However, this website does not offer a complete picture of an individual’s or firm’s regulatory record. For example, it is possible that, since publication, a firm has ceased to practice or a solicitor is no longer on the roll of solicitors. Most published decisions are removed from our website three years from the date they were published.

We have published a large number of Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) findings, dating from early 2005 to 1 July 2011.

We do not publish findings made by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal; these are published by the Tribunal itself.

Please note that the Tribunal publishes findings resulting in a strike off, indefinite suspension or revocation of authorisation of a firm indefinitely. Decisions to suspend for a fixed period remain on its website for the duration of the suspension or three years (whichever is the greater). All other decisions remain on its website for three years. If you are unable to find a decision on the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal website please contact Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority began publishing some decisions in January 2008 – the same year the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was created by the Scottish Government.

In comparison, since the SLCC came into being in 2008, the Scots legal services regulator has not identified one solicitor in any complaint investigated by the Law Society controlled quango – leading to a significant imbalance in the rights of Scots consumers to find out just how crooked their lawyer really is.

And, more often than not, the same Scottish law firms and same solicitors are subject of similar complaints in relation to professional misconduct, negligence, dishonesty, unashamed theft of client funds and some of the worst excesses which in any other arena would rate as criminal behaviour.

Yet, no one in Scotland is able to find out the regulatory history of their solicitor. No one. Unless by chance, clients who find themselves in the position of having to make a complaint against their solicitor decide to publicise their case and name the lawyers concerned.

A recent media investigation into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission recently revealed most of the SLCC’s key staff and investigators are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

 

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ROGUES REIMAGINED: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission calls on Scottish Government to reform “complex and legalistic” solicitors’ self regulation & complaints system

Pro-lawyer regulator calls for solicitor complaints reform. THE ‘independent’ regulator of Scottish solicitors – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is calling on the Scottish Government to consult on reforms to the “complex and legalistic” system for handling complaints against solicitors and other legal practitioners in Scotland.

The ‘independent’ SLCC – controlled by the Law Society of Scotland and funded by legal fees from clients – has presented a paper titled Reimagine Regulation to Scottish Ministers – setting out six key priority areas the SLCC believes the Government, which has committed to consultation on a review of legal regulation, should focus on.

Explaining that the present system requires different processes depending on the level of seriousness attached to the complaint – inadequate professional service, unsatisfactory conduct or professional misconduct, with complaints sometimes having to restart under a different process – the SLCC wants to “reduce the whole process to three core stages”, namely:

1. A single investigation – ensuring there are a range of flexible options to filter out vexatious and similar complaints and allowing processes proportionate to different levels; £200 or £20,000

2. Determination – by the same organisation in relation to lower level issues, or by prosecution at the professional tribunal for conduct which may lead to removal from the profession;

3. Appeal – to ensure accountability and meet the requirements of natural justice there should be a single opportunity to appeal at the conclusion of the process.

However, any limit of compensation is widely seen as a cave-in to the legal profession, given the fact accumulative financial losses suffered by clients of rogue solicitors can well exceed the £20,000 limit.

Reimagine Regulation – How pro-lawyer regulator views regulation.

The Law Society backed SLCC – is also calling for consultation on whether it is time for a single independent body to handle all aspects of complaints against the legal profession. The single investigatory body was the previous model when the Law Society of Scotland handled all complaints against it’s own member solicitors.

To achieve faster, more efficient, and more targeted complaints handling, paper claims the government must focus on a simplified customer journey, not institutions and legislative detail. A consultation should focus on the key questions:

a)  Is it time for a single independent body to handle all aspects of complaints?

b)  If not, how could stages and hand-overs be dramatically reduced – for example, a single investigation covering service and conduct, even if conduct is still prosecuted at an Independent tribunal?

c)  How many chances of appeal should there be, and is it time to consider the Sheriff Appeal Court as a more proportionate forum than the Court of Session for consumer disputes

The SLCC contends other areas should also be explored such as:

* Whether complaints bodies should have more discretion, with appropriate safeguards, and less prescriptive legislation;

* How to ensure that compensation awarded is paid to the consumer;

* How issues of unfair fees should best be addressed;

* Whether it is time to move from “one size fits all” regulation to a focus on the areas of greatest consumer risk, engaging experts on how to tackle high risk areas;

* The appropriate balance between professional regulation and market regulation;

* And whether the SLCC should have the power to issue rules on how lawyers should handle complaints at first tier, and the power to impose “strict liability” offences where they do not have, or follow, their own internal process.

Reimagine Regulation – Appendices & further research:Following on from claims put forward in the SLCC’s call for a consultation, the regulator contends a framework Act allowing “proportionate and targeted” regulation would resolve complaints faster, benefiting consumers and lawyers; resolve complaints more cost efficiently, reducing the SLCC’s operating costs paid for by the profession; increase the effectiveness of redress, a key public protection; reduce risk to consumers; and increase market confidence.

Commenting on the SLCC’s call for what some dubbed a window dressing exercise, former Law Society Director and now SLCC Chief executive Neil Stevenson said: “This is not about criticising current institutions or approaches – all organisations involved work hard to make the system work as best it can, and Scotland has an internationally well respected legal sector. However, after years of minor reforms we believe it’s time to engage the Scottish public and legal community on what results we are trying to achieve with regulation and complaints handling, and the simplest and most efficient way to do that. We hope this paper provokes broad discussion, and that the fantastic opportunity of a review of current arrangements looks at big issues and not just adjusting technical detail with the current model.”

SLCC chair Bill Brackenridge said: “There is much to be proud of, but we are frustrated at a system which is more complex and legalistic than it needs to be. Based on feedback from lawyers and consumers, and drawing on expert evidence, we believe any consultation should aspire to improve the current system.”

Brackenridge continued: “Last year we helped hundreds of consumers reach an early settlement, and some areas of our work, like mediation, get hugely positive feedback from lawyers and consumers alike. We awarded over £400,000 of redress, but we also dismissed cases which were clearly unmerited, providing independent assurance and confirmation that a lawyer has actually provided an acceptable service.”

Despite claims of high compensation payments, neither Mr Brackenridge or the SLCC has published figures revealing actual financial losses suffered by clients, compared to settlements and compensation awarded by the SLCC to victims of rogue solicitors.

Reimagine Regulation

The current arrangements for legal complaints, and how complaint outcomes are used to improve standards in the legal sector, are too complex, involve too many stages, and pass through too many organisations.  Faster, more efficient, and better targeted regulation can be delivered, to the benefit of consumers and the sector, by significant legislative reform.

The SLCC’s paper Reimagine Regulation – SLCC priorities for a consultation on legal services regulation sets out six key priority areas we believe the government should consult on when they deliver on their commitment to launch a ‘consultation to review legal regulation’.  The changes would benefit both consumers and lawyers, by:

1. Unravelling the current complex complaints maze

2. Reducing statutory detail that focuses on processes, not outcomes for people

3. Ensuring that when redress is awarded the client receives it

4. Targeting risk, and not seeing all legal services as the same

5. Embedding the consumer principles

6. Learning from complaints and data to improve future outcomes

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission claims their aim in this mainly public relations driven exercise – is to ensure that if there is a government consultation or review around the regulation of legal services then the key issues we set out are opened up for debate by consumers, the public and lawyers.  Final decisions on these issues are for the government and for parliament.

Scottish Ministers have so far not commented on whether they will launch any loaded consultation on the SLCC’s published paper.

Get involved

The SLCC has issued a call for consumers and the legal profession to become involved in the debate:

If you are interested in this area and wish to assist the debate then you can:

* publish an article discussing our ideas

* invite us to come to speak to you, or ask to visit us, or for us to send further information

* Contact your MSP or your professional body

* blog or tweet – copy us in @slcccomplaints and use the hashtag #ReimagineRegulation

* share views with the SLCC by email to consult@scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

 

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FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings – as derisory payments to executry fraud & legal malpractice victims revealed

‘Independent’ lawyer’s self regulator continues to look after profession. SCOTLAND’S ‘independent’ self regulator of solicitors – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has refused to publish the identities of tens of high profile law firms and solicitors across the country involved in serious malpractice resulting in upheld complaints & compensation payments to clients.

The ‘independent’ SLCC – controlled by the Law Society of Scotland and funded by clients legal fees to solicitors – also revealed brief details of case summaries where small payments with a range from a miserly £1 to £299 and up – have been paid out to the bereaved families of deceased loved ones.

The paltry compensation sums were paid out after lawyers look advantage of a regular scam by ripping off the wills & executry estates of dead clients.

Even in cases where tens of thousands of pounds were plundered from bank accounts and assets relating to wills handled by solicitors – a mere few hundred pounds were paid out to families & loved ones who were intended to inherit the possessions of their relatives.

The SLCC has refused to publish figures quoting actual payments or any figures identifying the extent of the actual losses suffered by victims after lawyers fleeced client assets and executry estates.

Instead, the lawyer backed self regulator has set out a vague structure of figures, which allow the lawyer backed regulator to make spurious claims of protecting consumers while in actual fact failing to deliver back to victims what is estimated to be tens of millions of pounds a year defrauded out of the executry estates of deceased Scots and their families – by the legal services industry.

Mired in accusations of pro-lawyer bias and corruption – the SLCC has also announced its latest 4 year strategy to:

* Increasing public awareness of the right to make a complaint about a lawyer and increasing the SLCC’s visibility

* Working to understand the public’s and the legal profession’s expectations of professional standards, including highlighting complaints processes

* Developing a culture of learning, so that  complaints made to the SLCC can be used to improve levels of service, as well as national professional standards and regulation

* Further developing the SLCC as a high performing organisation

* Making sure that compensation or fee refunds awarded by the SLCC are always received by consumers (in a tiny minority of cases this doesn’t happen at present)

Commenting on the strategy announcement, SLCC Chair Bill Brackenridge said: “We’ve finalised our strategy at a time when consumer rights have been climbing the public agenda”

He continued: “And we’re now planning for the years ahead.  We’ll have been running for ten years in 2018 and we now have a path, for then and after, to a more effective and efficient system for legal complaints.  Working in partnership will be crucial to its success and I’d like to thank our stakeholders for an open and challenging debate around the consultation.”

However, a recent media investigation into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission recently revealed most of the SLCC’s key staff and investigators are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

SOUNDS FAMILIAR? Read on – Your solicitor could be among the guilty:

Determination Decisions

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission now publishes anonymised Determination decisions – which give a brief description of complaints decided upon by the SLCC.

However, the heavily redacted case summaries crucially exclude the identify of law firms and solicitors involved in the complaints – meaning any consumer could unknowingly be using the same law firm or talking to the same solicitor – who has just been found guilty of dodging complaints investigations and ripping off other clients.

The SLCC claims it believes the information is useful information for both potential complainers and practitioners and “that this demonstrates better transparency of our process”

However, the SLCC goes on to state “We need to balance that transparency with our duty to protect confidentiality. Because of that, we publish anonymous complaint information and have, as far as possible, removed any identifying features.”

The SLCC further stated “It is also important to bear in mind that information given about a complaint is only a brief summary of the Determination Committee’s findings. In making decisions, consideration will have been given to specific facts and circumstances which, again for reasons of confidentiality, cannot be provided here. We hope, however, that the published information is sufficient to benefit both potential complainers and also those who provide legal services.”

Where a complaint has been upheld, the total amount the SLCC can award is capped at £20,000 – a cap set by the Scottish Government & Scottish Parliament after the legal profession lobbied against higher amounts of compensation during the passage of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2008.

Compensation for actual loss (quantifiable): Level 1 : £1-£299, Level 2:  £300-£649, Level 3: £650-£999, Level 4:  £1,000-£4,999, Level 5: £5,000-£9,999, Level 6: £10,000-£14,999, Level 7: £15,000-£20,000

Compensation for inconvenience, distress and loss of opportunity:Band A £1-£150, Band B: £151-£750, Band C: £751-£1,500, Band D £1,501-£5,000

Determination Decisions: January – March 2016

Upheld and part-upheld decisions

16/1 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitor had (a) failed to obtain instructions from the complainer’s partner until a week before completion of the sale, and (b) failed to ensure that there was a provision in a Minute of Agreement for the sale proceeds to be held on deposit, rather than distributed on completion of the sale.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the solicitor had acted correctly in distributing the funds, but that there was lack of effective communication with the complainer prior to the sale about distribution.  The Committee agreed that the solicitor had failed to act in the best interests of the complainer by failing to clearly explain what would happen in the event of implementation of a Minute of Agreement agreeing to equal division of the sale proceeds.

The Committee decided that both issues amounted to inadequate professional service.  The Committee decided that the firm should pay to the complainer compensation of Band C for distress and  inconvenience on several occasions.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £500.

16/2 Executry: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor had failed to respond to a significant amount of correspondence sent by their own legal advisor over a significant period of time.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to support the complaint that the firm had failed to reply to 12 items of correspondence over a period of approx. 20 months.  The Committee agreed that the failure had resulted in an inadequate professional service having been provided to the firm’s own client and having reached that conclusion, the Committee was satisfied that there was a direct adverse effect on the complainer.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress and level 1 for actual loss. The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £150.

16/3 Executry: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor had failed to respond to a significant amount of correspondence sent by their own legal advisor over a significant period of time.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to support the complaint that the firm had failed to reply to 12 items of correspondence over a period of approx. 20 months.  The Committee agreed that the failure had resulted in an inadequate professional service having been provided to the firm’s own client and having reached that conclusion, the Committee was satisfied that there was a direct adverse effect on the complainer.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress and level 1 for actual loss. The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £150.

16/4 Executry: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor had failed to respond to a significant amount of correspondence sent by their own legal advisor over a significant period of time.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to support the complaint that the firm had failed to reply to 12 items of correspondence over a period of approx. 20 months.  The Committee agreed that the failure had resulted in an inadequate professional service having been provided to the firm’s own client and having reached that conclusion, the Committee was satisfied that there was a direct adverse effect on the complainer.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress and level 1 for actual loss. The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £150.

16/5 Executry: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor had failed to respond to a significant amount of correspondence sent by their own legal advisor over a significant period of time.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to support the complaint that the firm had failed to reply to 12 items of correspondence over a period of approx. 20 months.  The Committee agreed that the failure had resulted in an inadequate professional service having been provided to the firm’s own client and having reached that conclusion, the Committee was satisfied that there was a direct adverse effect on the complainer.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress and level 1 for actual loss. The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £150.

16/6 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitor had (a) advised the complainer at the initial meeting that the information relating to the source of the deposit was not required, but later advised that this information was vital and incorrectly alleged that the complainer had failed to provide this information at the initial meeting, (b) failed to communicate effectively by failing to respond to basic questions, (c) failed to proceed with division of assets and sale proceeds when instructed, and (d) failed to deal adequately with the complaint.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to uphold issues (a) and (c) as inadequate professional service.

Regarding (a), the Committee agreed that the solicitor had failed to identify the client’s objectives at the outset, and thus advised the complainer to pursue an un-necessary course of action.

The Committee decided in respect of (b) that the client had been kept informed during the case.  The fact that the solicitor had not been able to answer very specific questions about matters extraneous to the case had also been explained, and as such, there was no breach of the Service Standards.

In respect of (c), the Committee was satisfied that the solicitor had delayed raising the action for several weeks.

Regarding (d), the Committee agreed that the evidence showed that the solicitor had attempted to address the complainer’s concerns, and that the suggestion to the client to seek alternative representation was unreasonable or unusual where dissatisfaction had been raised.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to reduce its fees by one third and to pay to the complainer compensation of Band A for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £700.

16/7 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitors and the firm had (a) unduly delayed registering the disposition, and (b) delayed informing the complainer of the mistake.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to uphold a finding of inadequate professional service against the firm.

The Committee decided, (a) the solicitor had failed to prepare and register the disposition following settlement and had delayed registration by approx. a year and a half.

In respect of (b), the Committee agreed that the solicitor had failed to inform the client that the disposition had not been registered timeously, and only after a number of months, once the defect had been rectified.

The Committee ordered the firm to refund part of the fees (£100) and outlays (£30), and to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £500.

16/8 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and the firm had (a) delayed/failed to obtain all of the husband’s financial information, failed to set up meetings and failed to follow instructions to communicate with the opposing solicitor, (b) failed to provide consistent advice, (c) included incorrect information in the offer of settlement, (d) failed to thoroughly examine the proposals for settlement, (e) failed to submit cravings on the complainer’s behalf, (f) failed to respond to requests for an interim account and failed to keep updated regarding escalating costs, and (g) delayed settlement negotiations.

The Determination Committee was of the view that there was no evidence to support the complaint, save as for issues (e) and (f) regarding the failure to submit cravings in the Defence, as required by the Ordinary Cause Rules, and the failure to issue an interim account as per the complainer’s request, or communicate adequately with the complainer about the increasing fees.  The Committee was satisfied that these issues could amount to inadequate professional service, as there had clearly been a breach of the Service Standards for diligence and communication.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band B for the inconvenience and distress caused by the inadequate professional service.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £500.

16/9 Litigation: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and the firm had (a) raised an action incorrectly naming the complainer individually, rather than in the name of the business, (b) failed to lodge the application timeously, (c) failed to lodge a properly framed application and delayed amending the application.

The Determination Committee decided that (a) there was insufficient evidence to reach any conclusion that the court action had been raised in the name of an incorrect party.  However, the Committee was satisfied that (b) the firm had failed to exercise the normal care and diligence expected of a competent solicitor by delaying the lodging of the application, and (c) failing to properly frame and amend the application.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to pay compensation of Band D for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed that no fees or outlays should be charged to the complainer.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £800.

16/10 Litigation: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor and the firm had failed to act in the best interests of his client by unduly delaying the conclusion of the dispute for over 2 years.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the cumulative effect of the identified delays adversely impacted on the service provided by the firm to its own client. Consequently, the complainer suffered as a direct effect of the deficiencies in the service to the client.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Level 4 for actual loss and Band B for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £300.

16/11 Residential conveyancing: The complainers complained that the named solicitor had (a) failed to ensure that a Completion/Habitation Certificate was available at conclusion of the purchase, (b) failed to advise of the consequences of completing without the Certificate, (c) failed to take instructions/obtain informed consent before agreeing a retention sum with the builder’s solicitors, and (d) failed to advise prior to completion that the property had not been passed as fit for habitation.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the firm (a) did not take all reasonable steps to ensure that their clients’ interests were protected at settlement, and (b) & (d) failed to clearly and fully explain the significance of settling without the relevant Completion and Habitation certificates. The Committee accepted that the firm had not investigated why the Certificate had not been issued or asked about any underlying issues.

Regarding (c), although the Committee was satisfied that the firm had sought instructions about the retention of £10,000, there appeared to be no evidence to show that the consequences of proceeding in the way suggested by the developers was explained to the complainers, and that they were not advised about what a Completion Certificate was or the implications of proceeding without one.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to each the complainers compensation of Band D for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed that fees in the sum of £660 (plus VAT) should be refunded to the complainers.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £3,000.

16/12 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and the firm had prepared an initial writ which contained a number of serious errors, including incorrect details of the children’s address and what was in the children’s best interests.     The Determination Committee was satisfied that the evidence showed that the firm had failed to ensure that the writ contained the necessary averments and fundamental flaws, which resulted in the action having to be dismissed and resurrected by newly instructed agents.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed that there should be a full refund of fees (£700) and no further fees charged to the complainer.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £400.

16/13 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitor had (a) failed to deal with a Motion to recall the Sist and request a Proof, contrary to numerous requests, (b) failed to submit the Motion to Court and charged inappropriately for doing so, (c) unduly delayed sending the Motion to the opposing solicitors, despite confirming that this would be carried out the following week, (d) unduly delayed updating on the position regarding the failed submission of the Motion, despite having given an undertaking to do so, (e) unduly delayed reminding the opposing solicitors that a response was still outstanding, despite two reminders to do so, (f) unduly delayed forwarding correspondence from the opposing solicitors, despite being reminded and advised of the urgency of the matter, (g) failed to raise various financial issues with the opposing solicitors, despite numerous requests to do so, (h) failed to confirm advice provided in writing, despite having agreed to do so, (i) failed to challenge a report, despite having accepted instructions to do so, (j) declined to provide further advice until the outstanding account had been settled, despite this being contrary to the terms of business, and (k) failed to deal adequately with the complaint, by ignoring concerns.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that (a) & (b) the solicitor had failed to enrol a Motion, despite having undertaken to do so and charged the complainer for having done so.

Regarding (c), although the Committee was content that the complainer had been advised of a timescale, there was only a 4 day delay.  The Committee was not satisfied that this short delay amounted to an inadequate professional service.

In respect of (d), the Committee noted that there had been a 4 week period between the date when the solicitor intended to enrol the Motion and the failure to do so being advised to the complainer.  The Committee’s view was that the solicitor should know the client’s business at all times, regardless of when he actually remembered the oversight.  The Committee’s view was that the delay was a breach of the standards of both diligence and communication and amounted to inadequate professional service.

Regarding (e), the Committee was satisfied that there had been a 5 week delay, despite 5 prompts by the complainer.

As regards (f), the Committee was satisfied that there had been a 4 week delay in the information being provided to the complainer, despite the solicitor being aware of the urgency.

In respect of (g), the Committee agreed that the solicitor had failed to follow instructions in this regard on at least 4 occasions.

Regarding (h), the Committee was satisfied that the evidence showed that the complainer had requested the information on a number of occasions, and that this had not been provided.  The solicitor had the opportunity of clarifying the information sought after the meeting, as subsequent requests were made.

In respect of (i), the Committee agreed that the evidence did not support the complaint that the solicitor had been asked to challenge the content of the report, other than in relation to fees.  Accordingly, this issue was not upheld.

Regarding (j), the Committee agreed that the solicitor had acted unreasonably by refusing to continue to provide advice to the complainer prior to the expiry of 30 days for settlement of the account, as allowed for in the terms of business letter.

Finally, in respect of (k), the Committee noted that there was no evidence to support the solicitor’s indication that the complainer had been invited to discuss the complaint, as per the terms of business letter.  The Committee was satisfied that without written confirmation and the complainer having denied having received any such invitation, that there had been a failure to comply with the terms of business and that this failure amounted to an inadequate professional service.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint in part and ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band C for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £700.

16/14 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitors and the firm had (a) failed to advise that a more in depth survey report should be obtained, (b) failed to obtain/discuss the terms of a timber report, (c) failed to follow up the issue of guarantees for damp treatment and woodworm, and (d) failed to advise of notification of timber infestation requiring full chemical works being undertaken.

The Determination Committee agreed that the firm had failed to provide the complainer with documents relating to previous investigations of damp and timber defects and failed to advise the complainer that further investigations should be carried out given the terms of those documents.  The Committee also agreed that one of the named solicitors had failed to obtain a copy of the report instructed by the complainer and did not advise about its terms prior to the conclusion of the missives.  The Committee was satisfied that one of the named solicitors had failed to follow up the issues of guarantees and that the firm had failed to advise of the terms of a letter from the sellers advising that there was an infestation of woodworm and that full chemical works should be carried out.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band C for the distress and inconvenience caused by the inadequate professional service.  The Committee also decided that the firm’s fees should be reduced by 35% (approx. £250 plus VAT) and refunded to the complainer.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £1,000.

16/15 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor and/or the firm had failed to register the sale of the ground or have the title deeds updated in relation to the part of the complainer’s garden that the firm’s client had purchased.

The Determination Committee agreed that the solicitor had failed to record the title deed in favour of the firm’s own client (the complainer’s neighbour), resulting in an inadequate professional service to their own client and which had a direct adverse impact on the complainer.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band A for the inconvenience and distress and level 2 for actual loss, due to the need for a new deed plan to be prepared.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £200.

16/16 Family law; failing to respond: The complainer complained about the named solicitor and/or the firm had (a) failed to include information required in a Pensions Sharing Order and failed to ensure that the Schedule was attached to the Minute of Agreement, (b) failed to ensure that the Minute of Agreement was sufficiently robust regarding the pension entitlement and net proceeds of sale, (c) failed to intimate the Agreement and Decree to the pension trustees within the appropriate statutory timescale, (d) failed to distribute the proceeds of sale in accordance with the Minute of Agreement and unduly delayed discharging the bank loan, (e) inappropriately and without authority, deducted the fee note from the proceeds of sale without having issued a fee note, (f) erroneously withheld the balance of the proceeds of sale, (g) failed to raise a court action, despite having been instructed to do so, (h) failed to respond to the letter of complaint and failed to provide a breakdown of fees, and (i) failed to implement a mandate.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the evidence showed that the firm had (a) failed to ensure that the pension plan details were contained in the document sent to the pension trustees, (d) failed to distribute funds timeously, and (e) deducted fees from retained funds without the knowledge of the complainer. The Committee was not satisfied that the evidence supported the remaining issues of complaint or that there was lack of evidence to prove these issues on the balance of probabilities.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band B for inconvenience and distress, and that fees charged should be reduced by £100.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £400.

16/17 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and the firm had (a) failed to obtain a Letter of Comfort from the Council and/or failed to determine the exact amount of the liabilities owed by the sellers in respect of outstanding Statutory  Notices, and (b) failed to negotiate an appropriate retention amount in the missives.

The Determination Committee decided that (a) there was evidence that the firm failed to take adequate steps to determine the liabilities of the sellers, and (b) that the firm failed to negotiate an appropriate retention.  The Committee decided that the complaint should be upheld to this extent.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band C for distress and inconvenience and Level 4 for actual loss.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £800.

16/18 Litigation: The complainers complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had (a) systematically lied regarding the action being taken in connection with the claim, and (b) falsely charged the complainers for costs in relation to water and planning applications.

The Determination Committee decided that (a) there was sufficient evidence to support the complainers’ contention that the solicitor had incorrectly advised them that various steps had taken place to progress the action, and (b) the solicitor falsely advised the complainers that the sellers would pay for the costs of the work, despite having obtained no undertaking that they would do so.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to each of the complainers compensation of Band D for distress and inconvenience, and that no fee note should be rendered.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £1,000.

16/19 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had failed to advise about the Capital Gains Tax liability on the transfer of title.

The Determination Committee upheld the complaint on the basis that the options available to the complainer should have been explored, and the complainer had not been advised of the tax liability and/or was not advised to seek tax advice from another source.  The Committee’s view was that the complainer had suffered a loss of opportunity to consider all available options and was not fully informed as a result of the inadequate professional service.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band D for worry and distress. The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £850.

16/20 Litigation: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had (a) failed to advise him at any time about the strength of his claim, (b) failed to advise him of the potential for a costs order being made if the case was lost, and (c) failed to keep the complainer updated or advised about what SLAB required for the funding application.

The Determination Committee decided in respect of (a) that the firm had failed to give appropriate advice, either in writing or otherwise, about the strength of the claim. Such advice should have been provided in writing before court proceedings were raised.  In respect of (b), the Committee was satisfied that the evidence indicated that the firm had failed to provide appropriate advice regarding potential liability for expenses if the action was unsuccessful, or the potential magnitude of that liability.  The Committee agreed that the evidence did not support (c), that the firm had advised the complainer of the date of the hearing, that the firm had passed on any requests received from SLAB, or that SLAB had been in touch with the complainer directly.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Level 5 for actual loss and Band C for inconvenience and distress resulting from the inadequate professional service.  Additionally, the Committee decided that the firm should not be entitled to charge any fees or outlays for the service provided.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £1,500.

16/21 Executry: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had failed to ensure prompt and transparent fee arrangements, having issued a final fee note in June 2014, for work carried out between 2008 and 2013, without any prior warning or discussion.

The Determination Committee decided that there was evidence of a failure to set out the basis upon which fees would be charged from the outset and the delay issuing the fee note at the conclusion of the instruction amounted to inadequate professional service.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band A for inconvenience and distress caused by the inadequate professional service.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £50.

16/22 Executry: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had (a) failed/delayed to respond to telephone calls and keep the complainer updated, (b) failed to explain the increase in fees, despite numerous requests, and (c) failed to provide adequate advice regarding an insurance policy claim.

The Determination Committee decided regarding (b) that the failure by the firm to keep the complainer updated regarding increasing costs and that the fees had exceeded the original amount quoted amounted to an inadequate professional service.  The Committee noted that the firm had failed to provided the complainer with a copy of the Law Accountants fee note, despite there having been a fee rendered for the service and that the letter of engagement was unclear and difficult to understand.

The Committee decided that the evidence showed that the firm had (a) been in regular communication with the complainer who had been kept up to date.  The Committee could find no evidence to support complaint (c).

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for distress and inconvenience and to refund excess fees (approx. £5000).  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £250.

16/23 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitors and/or the firm had (a) failed to adequately advise of the position regarding the alterations to the attic space, (b) failed to check/advise the complainer to ensure that the attic alterations were in line with building regulations, and (c) failed to fully advise of the risks proceeding with the purchase without verifying the position regarding the alterations.

The Determination Committee decided to uphold all 3 issues as inadequate professional service, as the evidence supported the complaint that the firm had failed to address all 3 matters adequately.  The Committee was satisfied that the firm had failed to fully advise the complainer about the potential issues regarding the building control documentation for the alterations, there was a failure to communicate throughout the transaction, despite requests for clarification, and that the firm had not alerted the complainer to the potential risks or consequences of proceeding without the adequate documentation.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Level 2 for actual loss and Band D for distress and inconvenience.  The Committee also ordered a full fee refund (approx. £600 plus VAT).  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £2,000.

16/24 Family: The complainer complained that the opposing solicitor and/or the firm had failed to obtemper an Interlocutor (which ordered the firm to notify the complainer of a court hearing date), by sending the notice to an address where the complainer had not lived for a number of years.

The Determination Committee decided that the firm had failed to fulfil the commitment to the Court, to the client and to the complainer, to prepare the case diligently and to communicate effectively.  The Committee accepted that the firm had served papers at an incorrect address, which did not match the address on the Court Record for the action.  As a result, the Committee was satisfied that the firm had provided their own client with an inadequate professional service, as a client would expect the firm to properly designate the parties and the failure to do so, could have led to additional time and cost to the client for the rectification of any errors. The Committee agreed that there had been a direct adverse impact on the complainer and on that basis, the complaint was upheld.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band B for the inconvenience and distress caused by the inadequate professional service.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £200.

Not upheld decisions:

16/25 Litigation: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and the firm had (a) failed to conduct the court case adequately by ignoring expert opinions, reports, evidence and failing to call specific witnesses and had quoted an incorrect name in the court documents, (b) failed to provide adequate advice about the settlement, by failing to advise that the opponent was obliged to issue a VAT receipt, despite instructions that the offer was to be inclusive of VAT, and (c) acted in an aggressive manner and threatened to cease acting on multiple occasions.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the solicitor had exercised professional judgement and there was no evidence to show that this was unreasonable.  The Committee agreed that the solicitor followed clear instructions and there was no evidence that the solicitor failed to advise adequately about the terms of the settlement.  The Committee agreed that the evidence showed effective and clear communication by the solicitor and there was no evidence to support the complaint that the solicitor had acted in an aggressive manner.

The Committee decided not to uphold the complaint.

16/26 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitors had (a) failed to provide adequate information about fees, (b) failed to keep the bank informed of a significant overspend, despite being aware of the limitations in funding, (c) failed to follow instructions by allowing 3 staff members to attend at court, thus incurring unnecessary costs, (d) failed to pay Counsel’s fees before taking the firm’s fees, and (e) failed to advise Counsel to withdraw from acting.

The Determination Committee decided that (a) sufficient information about fees had been provided before the offer was rejected, (b) the bank had been kept up to date and advised of the reasons for the increases in funding, (c) the firm did not accept the instruction to only have 1 person at the court hearing.  The firm did not, therefore, fail to fulfil a commitment to the complainer and fees were not unnecessarily incurred, as the need for additional staff was explained and professional judgement in this regard was exercised reasonably.

Regarding (d), the Committee could find no evidence to support the complaint that an instruction had been given or accepted that Counsel should be paid in the first instance.

In respect of (e), again the Committee could find no evidence to support the complaint about the withdrawal of Senior Counsel from the case.

The Committee decided not to uphold the complaint.

16/27 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had provided inadequate and inconsistent advice about the availability of Legal Aid within the firm.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the evidence showed that the advice provided was clear, consistent and in accordance with the firm’s policy on Legal Aid.  The Committee did not consider that there was any contradictory information provided, or that the quality of communication from the solicitor and/or the firm was inadequate.

The Committee decided not to uphold the complaint.

16/28 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitor of the firm had failed to advise the complainer to take steps to confirm the validity of a Letter of Comfort or advise the complainer to insist on a Certificate of Completion from the sellers.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the evidence showed that the firm had adequately advised the complainer of the available options and how to protect the position.  The Committee agreed that there was no requirement for the firm to insist on a Completion Certificate.

The Committee decided not to uphold the complaint.

 

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One Law for Lawyers: Under the guise of ‘Consumer Protection’ Law Society of Scotland propose new pro-lawyer legislation to maintain control over self regulation of solicitors

Law Society – new powers to look after lawyers. VESTED INTERESTS tend not to remain silent in an election year, and as the May 2016 Holyrood elections approach, the Law Society of Scotland has proposed the Scottish Parliament give the legal profession even more powers to enable lawyers to look after their own.

The Law Society pledges the new legislation – written by the Law Society, amended by the Law Society, and finally, approved for whatever scant debate at Holyrood the Law Society deigns necessary, will enable the Law Society to protect consumers and clients even more so than is currently humanly possible.

The Prospectus for Power – which the Law Society has submitted to Scottish Ministers, sets out the legal profession’s take on a “need for change” including proposals for;

* better regulation of legal firms (‘entity regulation’) in addition to the regulation of individual solicitors to protect consumers,

* new powers to suspend solicitors suspected of serious wrongdoing,

* opening the Law Society’s membership in order to improve standards amongst other legal professionals,

* the ability for the Society to regulate legal work beyond the domestic Scottish jurisdiction in order to provide simpler regulation for cross-border firms,

* more flexible business models which allow legal firms to adapt to market changes.

Better regulation of legal firms – to protect consumers.

This coming just a few short months after Law Society staff were hurriedly arranging press conferences to combat questions over their seedy role in holding down a Crown Office investigation of certain activities carried out by solicitors involved in the Michelle Thomson property scandal – reported in further detail here: CRIME SOCIETY: Law Society of Scotland ‘unfit for purpose’ as calls grow for Scots solicitors to be stripped of self regulation powers used by lawyers to investigate themselves

Little more has been said of the Crown Office inept handling of the information allegedly passed to it by the Law Society – however, the silence may not be a total surprise, given Scotland’s Crown Office was recently revealed to hold a criminal tendency all of it’s own: CROWN CROOKED: Crown Office crime files reveal Scotland’s Prosecutors & staff charged with Drugs crimes, Police assault, threats & perverting the course of justice

However, we must remember the demands proposals from the Law Society of Scotland should not be taken lightly.

As any experienced Parliament watcher will admit – the Law Society of Scotland have a history of getting what the profession wants at the Scottish Parliament.

Take for instance, the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, and the lengthy, at times bitter debate during 2006 – which saw John Swinney call out the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy Indemnity Insurance arrangements and the Society’s interference in client compensation claims as dishonest and then some.

The Law Society’s then Chief Executive Douglas Mill did not take kindly to the cross examination, and proposals before MSPs to create an independent regulator – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

At one point, Mill went so far as to say Holyrood should take a hike – and threated the Parliament with legal action if lawyers were to be robbed of their self given Human Right to look after their own. In the end, it was Douglas Mill who took a hike.

However, in all things legal, nothing is as it seems.

The ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – created as a result of the 2007 LPLA Act, became little more than a front for the Law Society of Scotland.

The regulator ended up costing clients around £3million a year – paid over and over again out of hikes to legal fees.

As independent regulators go, the SLCC is staffed by former Law Society employees, lawyers, lawyers families, friends, business associates, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

To crown it all, the Law Society took charge of the ‘independent’ SLCC by appointing one of their own former Directors – Neil Stevenson as the latest Chief Executive of the SLCC.

A truly malevolent definition of ‘independence’ – if ever there was one.

Since the LPLA Act took effect, countless law changes have taken place to allegedly improve the SLCC’s procedures on how it can better regulate the legal profession.

One such change landed Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to provide Scots legal regulators with similar ‘new powers’ to protect consumers.

Read more on the 2014 legislative effort to create enhanced powers for legal regulators, here: TOXIC LAW: MacAskill gives lawyers ‘right to complain about complaints’

Guess what.The new rules changed nothing. The SLCC is as inept at regulating lawyers in 2016, as it was in 2014 counting backwards to 2008 when the ‘independent’ regulator came into being.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

Prospectus for Power – Law Society of Scotland.

Now, in 2016, the Law Society of Scotland claims another round of new legislation is needed to better protect consumers and allow the Scottish legal services market to thrive

Publishing a detailed prospectus which it has presented to the Scottish Government on the need for change, the professional body for Scottish solicitors said the current legislative framework was increasingly out of date and unfit for purpose – about as unfit for purpose as self regulation can ever be.

Discussions have already taken place between the Law Society and the Scottish Government on the legal profession’s legislation wish list for new powers.

Christine McLintock – President of the Law Society of Scotland admitted: “We have had a number of very useful discussions with the Scottish Government and we are grateful to Ministers and officials for being so open to listening to our ideas. We have also worked hard to engage other bodies in the legal sector as well as consumer groups to ensure we work in partnership to deliver real change.

Ms McLintock added: “We obviously need to see the outcome of the Holyrood elections in May and the shape of the new Scottish Government.  Whatever the outcome, we will be pushing hard for reform to be an early priority in the new parliament.”

The Law Society’s campaign to give the legal profession new powers includes what the profession claims should be ‘Priorities for the Scottish Parliament’.

This campaign includes a call for Scotland’s political parties to commit to a modern, fit-for-purpose framework for legal services in Scotland which;

* Maintains the advantages of the current system, including the independence of the legal profession, a robust system of co-regulation involving strong professional bodies and an independent complaints handling organisation and discipline tribunal

* Provides a more agile system of consumer protection and addresses the rise of the unregulated legal services market

* Allows flexible regulation that reflects the rise of alternative business models, cross-border firms and internationalisation of the sector

* Enables the Law Society to respond to the changing needs of its members and to open up associate forms of membership to other legal professionals, including paralegals and legal executives

President of the Law Society, Christine McLintock added: “The legal services market is a great Scottish success story.  We contribute over £1 billion to the economy each year; account for over 20,000 highly skilled jobs and support many of the other sectors on which Scotland’s economy depends.  We have phenomenal legal talent, thanks to our world class universities and a rigorous programme of training and development to deliver high standards.

“Yet the legal services market is going through a dramatic period of change.  New expectations from clients, new business models, the growth of cross border legal firms and increased technology are all serving to reshape the market.

“Most of the legislation covering the operation and regulation of the legal market is over 35 years old. It is increasingly outdated for modern legal practice.  Whilst some reforms were brought in 2007 and 2010, the whole framework can be confusing and, in some cases, contradictory.

“There are important elements and principles which should be preserved.  The independence of the legal profession.  A single professional body for solicitors.  Independent complaints handling and discipline bodies.  These are important and should be protected.  However, there is a case for new, flexible and enabling legislation which helps the legal services market in Scotland to thrive, which continues to ensure standards remain high and which better protects consumers when things do go wrong.”

The Law Society of Scotland says it now plans to engage with political parties, consumer groups and others in the legal sector to build a consensus in favour of change with an aim of getting a new Bill introduced early in the new term of the Scottish Parliament.

However, in England & Wales, the public mood is for fully independent regulation of the legal profession, as was recently reported here: A QUESTION OF TRUST: Should solicitors be independently regulated? UK public say “Yes” – according to research conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Remember to add your own voice when any such proposals eventually reach the Scottish Parliament.

 

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